Anyone with the moniker of Jekyll would most likely never have an easy time of it in this world. It brings to mind the image of a man gone mad, that of someone who is more like a beast than anything else. So having been prejudged simply because of a name, what is there to do? Accept your fate and forever be cursed by a ghost that no longer counts itself among the living or try and prove everyone wrong, that you are your own man and a name is just a name? Edward Jekyll decides to do the former. Though he might not believe every story about his father, he knows that he cannot change people’s minds about the past, but what he can do is change the present and how people perceive him.
Released by Columbia Pictures in 1951, the film stars Louis Hayward in the title role as the son of the famed doctor and though it might not be the role he was born to play, he does an admirable job. He seems a little wooden in the part at first, but soon warms up to it and really gets into it. In fact, he even starts to carry the film, as he should as he is the leading man, and his performance turns out to be charismatic and effective. It was a little strange thinking that he would not be able to pull off the role at the beginning of the film, but thankfully he proved those thoughts wrong and came through.
No film is complete, or at least a horror film, without a good villain. As the film is about the famed Dr. Jekyll, one would most likely think that the villain would be Edward himself. Like father like son, one would say, most especially in this case. But instead we are treated to one of the unsuspecting kind in Alexander Knox who plays Dr. Curtis Lanyon, Edward’s friend, confidant and father in lieu of the one he lost. And it is unexpected coming from that direction as there were no hints to Lanyon’s subterfuge early on in the film.
Aside from the surprise villain reveal, although we knew it could not be the hero, the film moved along under Seymour Friedman’s direction from A to B to C. It was not a bad film, nor was it a paint by numbers effort, but it followed a pretty standard formula for horror films of that time period. Written by Mortimer Braus and Jack Pollexfen, they crafted this nice little film much in the same vein as the Universal Studios efforts of the time, which was not a bad thing as that type of film worked and worked well. It was eerie and atmospheric and featured a hard-luck hero who could not seem to come out on top until the end of the film. The only thing missing was the virginal damsel in distress. The good thing about the picture though, was that while we had a supporting actress in Jody Lawrance, it did not necessarily need a leading lady as the sole focus had to do with Edward and the ghost of his father and that was by far, more than enough.
Other than Lawrance and Knox, the rest of the actors did not make much of an impact, and to be fair, their parts were much smaller. A great moment in the film was seeing how it came full circle with Jekyll meeting his fate at the beginning of the film and his partner meeting his own in the exact manner at the end. An interesting note, or perhaps more of a curiosity, Pollexfen who co-wrote this film would also go on to write The Daughter of Dr. Jekyll. That film would turn out to be a different animal than this one, though it would follow a similar tenor with our protagonist being taken advantage of.
With many sequels to horror films being produced over the years, this was actually one of the better ones to come along. Overall, the film was a good one, but not a great one. It was, more than anything else, entertaining, and keeping your audience enthralled and distracting them for the length of the film – that is what matters most.